After 7 years of back to back theatre performances Imelda Staunton wants her life back. That’s why she is turning to television and film for the foreseeable future.
But with “Finding Your Feet” the four time Olivier Award winner used her peerless past work on stage to assist her cinematic pursuits. In the feel-good rom-com Staunton plays the snobbish Sandra, who after discovering that her husband of 40-years has been having an affair moves in with her older sister Bif (Celia Imrie) before then reluctantly joining a community dance class.
I recently had the chance to speak to Staunton about “Finding Your Feet,” following the same career trajectory as Judi Dench, and her preference for West End theatre over Broadway, all of which provoked some remarkably candid responses.
What first attracted you to “Finding Your Feet”?
I liked the fact that it was a page turner. As I started reading it I thought that I knew exactly where it was going, but then I was constantly surprised by it. I found it unpredictable. But it is always the script. Especially because I haven’t done anything like this before. Plus, it was great to work with all of the mates, too. Tim and I were at drama school together in the late 70s. Me and Celia first worked together back in 1978. All that made it so easy. There were no egos and there was an immediate shorthand.
While this is a comedy there’s some pretty weighty subject matter in there, too.
Those particular subjects are dealt with sensitively, because it is a lightweight film. But that makes it meatier than you think. You are just trying to play the truth of the situation, and you are hoping that it isn’t sentimental or obvious in our hands. And going left field, away from the cliché, made it more interesting. Through my character, you see a modern version of middle England, too, and us filming in central London allowed us to tip toe around aspects of real London. But this isn’t a Ken Loach film, we knew that we wanted to make a feel good film. I think the film is very true to those people, though. Plus we had to do gorilla filmmaking for some some stuff. Which was fun. This was another low-budget British film that was a bit of a kick, bollock, scramble. We got in there, shot it, and got out. But it was no worse for that. Because it all worked on the page. Because if you’re talking Richard Curtis, they do have a budget. We had a little budget. Our film doesn’t look like it is done on the cheap.
I read somewhere that you are taking a break from acting.
I want to take a break from theatre, not from movies. I want to do film and TV and not theatre. Because I have done 7 years back to back of theatre. So I was like, ‘Right, you need to do it or stop complaining.’ Because with theatre you have no life at all. And with film and telly you do have a life. That’s what I want to concentrate on if I can.
So you want to follow the trajectory of Judi Dench?
I think for Judi it happened with “Mrs Brown.” We’ve known Judi Dench for years and years and years because of theatre. And then there was “Shakespeare In Love” and the Oscar and that was it. I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to Judi. But in a way we in this country can have actresses like me working. Because I have got my own face, which is interesting. As has Judi. We are character actresses, leading actresses that can go between theatre and film. It is not that I never want to do theatre again. It’s just that I want to have a break for a bit. Because I want to have a bit of life. Now I can do all the work I want to do from home. Because “Harry Potter” was 40 minutes from my home and Mike Leigh shoots all around London. There’s no need for me to go anywhere else. So I don’t need to go to Hollywood.
Hollywood has come to England now. All of our studios are full of American films. But I still feel as though we struggle to get English films made.
Our history is theatre, American’s history is film. All of the English studios are full of American films, though. Which is fantastic. In a way though we should just tread our own path. We should just do what we do. Let’s just do that well. It’s no secret that Americans come over here to see theatre. I don’t think you can compare Broadway to the West End. I am afraid I am going to have to fly the flag for a moment. The standard is just fantastic. Our plays seem to come under the wire. I love it when work sneaks up on people. The more you blow a great big trumpet of, ‘This is going to be amazing!’ We are all going to be disappointed. Because all our imaginations are different. And we are all expecting something different. There are shows that are the exceptions to the rule, like “Hamilton.” But they are all great big blockbuster shows. They have their audience. People will spend obscene amounts to see them. It is a conundrum. I love plays and theatre. I don’t go to a lot of musicals. I went to see “The Lion King” on Broadway in 1996 and it was one of the most magical things I have ever seen. I can love all that. But I also like the quiet shows with no songs.
“Finding Your Feet” is released on March 30.